Wednesday, January 25, 2006

454 sets an example

Numerous service changes and new bus routes will come into effect from 30 January. These are currently being discussed over on ATDB.

The changes include a new route here and some service extensions there. Most changes extend much-needed services to outer suburbs. Though necessary for equity reasons, their limited frequency won't suddenly attract hordes of choice passengers, curb car-dependence or improve cost-recovery. Car-owners only ever see a meandering, near empty bus every hour or so and imagine that public transport can only ever be like this and is thus not for them.

This is why another type of service improvement, which cuts travel time and builds patronage through better frequency and co-ordination with trains, is so important. The best example from this round of service changes is the upgrade of Route 454, which links the residential West Sunshine to the transport, commercial and retail hub of Sunshine.

For the next couple of days both 454 timetables are available:

Current

Proposed

Just in case the old timetable becomes unavailable, the main points of the current 454 will be familiar to most Melbourne bus passengers. These include Monday to Saturday running only, last service departs before before 7pm, unharmonised train connections (buses 30 min, trains 20 min), etc.

The new version contains worthwhile measures that will slash waiting times and speed overall travel. They are the product of a great deal of thought and not a mere tinkering. The more significant improvements include:

* Wider service spans, with the last departure after 8:00pm on weekdays and Saturdays

* The basic off-peak weekday headway improved from every 30 minutes to every 20 minutes. This permits consistent and reliable connections with every train. Peak services were reduced from 15 to 20 minutes, but people can now stay in the city until after 7pm and still get a bus home!

* Saturday services have been reduced from a non-connecting and clockface 30 min to a non-clockface 40 min but again benefit from a wider service span and better connections.

* Service extended to Sundays, with connections to every second train.

While longer operating hours would still be desirable, the new 454 timetable remedies many of the shortcomings of the old service and is a credit to all concerned. It should make public transport in the area more convenient for more people.

Most heartening is that it gives confidence that despite an entrenched pattern of numerous slow, inefficient and non-coordinated bus routes across Melbourne, decent service planning can still happen.

Alongside a grid of frequent cross-suburban trunk routes between major interchanges, low-cost 454-style improvements to all local routes are the sorts of changes needed to bring usable public transport to the two-thirds of Melbourne who currently lack it.

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